Consideration of ‘2084 Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity’ John C Lennox,
(Zondervan Reflective, 2020)
‘Where is humanity going?’ is John Lennox’s basic question. Will Artificial General Intelligence surpass human intelligence by 2084? He recalls the IBM computer which beat Gary Kasparov at chess in 1997. Where will the technological modification of human beings lead?
Algorithms have changed everything. These are computer programmes which are used to solve whole classes of problems. They can analyse big data, for example National Health Service statistics for specific diseases and conditions using X-ray records. They are also being used for work recruitment, saving time-consuming evaluation of individual applications. Businesses such as Amazon use algorithms for customer profiling. Internet political canvassing has used them for the past twenty years and more. Power, says Lennox, lies in the ability to harvest vast quantities of information. However, he is sure that there is no equivalence between machine intelligence and human intelligence.
Lennox is concerned that the philosophical backdrop of AGI is assumed atheism. He thinks that God will survive science but he is not so sure atheism will. ‘Theories and laws do not bring matter/energy into existence’. (p34) They only describe what is already here. Lennox dismisses Richard Dawkins argument against the existence of God in ‘The God Delusion’, that is if you posit a creator you then must ask who created the creator and then go back ad infinitum. Lennox writes, ‘But according to the biblical world-view, the Creator, God, is not created but is eternal. Therefore the time sequence-dependent question that assumes there is something before God that created God therefore does not even apply to him!’ (35)
The question of eternity is a time conditioned question, belonging to our life on earth. Lennox’s answer only goes so far. Eternal means 'simpliciter' without beginning or end, always existing. But this does not explain the existence of God. Not does it explain human consciousness. Yet the phenomenon of our consciousness connects us with the eternal Creator. Our mental capacity does not take us much further. Why do we exist? Why does anything exist? Why does God exist? How does God exist? Some philosophers conclude that the question 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' is unanswerable. Christians may say that an answer to this question will have to wait until the hereafter in the presence of the Creator God. But we may contemplate higher dimensions of life, greater than we are capable of knowing and understanding. Does a worm understand our human life? Great we may be on earth, but where do we stand in terms of other dimensions of existence, created or uncreated? Will humans know much more about the universe in a thousand years? No doubt. What might they know about higher dimensions? Maybe nothing. For all human need, God has revealed Himself sufficiently in Jesus Christ.
Elsewhere Lennox says that God is spirit. This echoes the words of Jesus ‘God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth’. (John 4 : 24) The Greek ‘pneuma’ means ‘the vital spirit, soul, or creative force of a person’, in this case God the Creator. Here, Jesus is using the term to contrast the nature of God with human physical nature and human made religious belief and practices. Does spirit create matter? Genesis 1 : 1 - 2 reads ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’. The nature of God precedes creation. The Creator God then must be greater than spirit as understood and defined by us humans. The Creator God must be greater than all the elements of the visible and invisible universe. René Descartes (1596 – 1650) said that a substancean entity is one which exists in such a way that it needs no other entity in order to exist. That is how we think of God. But this is just human labelling. It tells us nothing about the properties of God. It takes us no further in comprehension.
Lennox holds that DNA is powerful evidence of a divine signature. (37, 38). The DNA molecule consists of a word in a four letter chemical alphabet. It is the longest word that has ever been discovered (3.4 billion letters). Might it have been created by an intelligence? Francis Collins described DNA as ‘God’s language’. (39) Lennox correlates this with John 1 : 1, 3. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made’. Science, thinks Lennox, has not got rid of the Judaeo-Christian God who inspired the European scientists throughout the centuries (Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Clerk Maxwell).
Looking to the future development of artificial intelligence, Lennox suggests that we have left undirected Darwinian evolution behind in favour of human intelligent design. Mobile phones are extensions of our personalities. Mechanical and electronic prosthetic limbs allow mobility. Pacemakers keep hearts beating. This may be called human upgrading. Elon Musk suggests that we are already techno-humans. Genetic enhancement is a providence of the rich. Virtual reality will change what it means to be human. This is called ‘transhumanism’ allowing the human species to enter upon a new form of existence which will include life extension. Brain implants which regulate behaviour and age elimination may decouple life from biology based on silicon. A superintelligent composite might then be formed.
But Lennox doubts that this can or will ever happen. (50) He thinks that for some even talk of this development may bring anxiety and Orwellian alarm (47). Ideas that robots might take over the world and possibly turn against humanity itself are frightening. Unprecedented benefits may accrue with attendant dangers, just as nuclear power also brought nuclear weapons. Other scientists try to separate fact from fiction, pointing out that human intelligence is significantly different from that of programmed machines. But we are half-way there. We have digital assistants, (Siri, Alexa), autonomous vehicles, language translators, robotic production engineers and even computerised surgeons. There are already autonomous military weapons. Space exploration is more efficient with machines than humans.
‘One of the major Orwellian aspects of AI is that certain forms of it present a serious threat to individual and corporate privacy.’ Lennox calls this ‘surveillance capitalism’. (67) He quotes the journalist Libby Purves on Siri and Alexa. ‘paying to live with a vigilant inhuman spy linked to an all-too-human corporate profit centre.’ (68) He also cites ‘surveillance communism’ as in China with its near 500 million CCTV cameras exerting total social control by means of a social credit system which awards or deducts points for conduct and behaviour. Facial recognition and headgear that monitors brain waves are also in use there. Lennox sees a moral problem in seeking to detect human emotions and attitudes in this way. He quotes Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett. ‘It is not possible to confidently infer happiness from a smile, anger from a scowl, or sadness from a frown.’ (71) In the west most surveillance tools are in private hands though governments are seeking regulatory control. Lennox asks ‘Is it inevitable that Big Data will lead to Big Brother?’ He quotes Yuval Harari in reply. ‘Once Big Data systems know me better than I know myself authority will shift from humans to algorithms’. (79)
Steven Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature) and Yuval Harari (Homo Deus) prophesy the obsolescence of wars on the basis of mutually assured destruction. Lennox disagrees. Anyone seeing the daily broadcasts of pictures from Ukraine will concur with him. The nuclear sabre rattling of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung Un also suggest an alternative apocalyptic scenario. Harari thinks that food shortages will hardly occur. But there are severe famines at present in Yemen, north east Kenya, the Sahel and in other African countries. Global warming is predicted to dramatically reduce crop fertility throughout the world.
‘Harari thinks that physical death has been reduced to a mere technical problem that is ripe for solution by medical science’ (85) He suggests, ‘We don’t need to wait for the Second Coming in order to overcome death.’ (86) Harari and others foresee the necessity to change our biochemistry and re-engineer our bodies and minds. (88, 89) Lennox says that C S Lewis foresaw this sort of thing in ‘That Hideous Strength’ (1945). He quotes John Gray describing it as ‘techno-monotheism’ and Giles Fraser calling it ‘superstition’ and ‘magic’. (89) Its prototype was Frankenstein. C S Lewis considered that what would really happen would be disproportionate power in the hands of a few over the very many. Nazi eugenics and Soviet and Maoist mass murders of intellectuals evidence human capacity to misuse totalitarian power. China is a contemporary example. Harari’s vision might lead to the abolition of humankind.
James Lovelock thinks that humans need to make way for something new. Max Tegmark calls this a new form of life with unlimited potential for good or ill. Others think that humans will still be in charge. AI is transformative technology and America and China are competing for ascendancy. China is winning the race because of its central command. Lennox is concerned about the lack of a moral framework and of ethical considerations. Will a new elite rise to dominate all others? Will there be any sense of the common good? What will be the view of ultimate reality – a physical self-regulating eco-system or the existence of a Creator? Sean Carroll describes humans as ‘blobs of organized mud’. Nick Bostrom thinks that evolution plus human intelligent design will take humanity forward more efficiently. Lennox thinks that the danger here is to equate human brain function with that of a computer. ‘Simulation is not duplication’ (98) ‘Humans have something more than the intelligence that AI, no matter how advanced, will never have.’ (100) He quotes Roger Epstein. ‘...computers…operate on symbolic representations of the world...store and retrieve... process...have physical memories...are guided in everything they do, without exception, by algorithms’. (100, 101) Lennox says ‘Computers don’t have goals of their own’. They are set in motion by human agents. They don’t need sociality or respect. (101) ‘The human brain is not a protein nanotech computer.’ (102) He quotes Hannah Fry ‘worrying about evil AI is a bit like worrying about over crowding on Mars.’ (102)
Lennox asks whether atheistic evolutionary biologists may be wrong. ‘Might not the fact that life depends on information bearing macromolecules fit much better with the idea that it was designed by a creative intelligence? (103) Evolution did not produce life. Harari is unjustified in asserting that ‘Now humankind is poised to replace natural selection with intelligent design and to extend life from the organic realm into the inorganic.’ (103) ‘Elon Musk has formed a company, Neuralink with the goal of fusing the human brain with AI.’ (104) Lennox distinguishes ethically between helpful inventions such as bionic limbs and modifying the human germline - genetic alterations within the germ cells, or the reproductive cells, such as the egg and sperm which pass through generations.
World domination scenarios are discussed. (105f) This is the idea of the perfect totalitarian state. In Shanghai toddlers are being taken from their parents to achieve zero Covid outbreaks. This is far from being the perfect totalitarian state. Micro-surveillance is carried out in China. Xi Jinping has set up portraits of himself in every Christian Church. Lennox thinks this sort of thing is foreshadowed in the Bible. (108) But does not explain further. He wants to know what the world will be like? Surely the Chinese Communist Party is the progenitor? But it may not actually ever happen. J Budziszewski wrote, ‘To abolish and remake human nature is to play God...Genesis contains the story of Babel, of the presumption of men who thought they could build a tower to “heaven”...you want some men to be to other men what God has been to man’. (110)
The Bible gives value and significance to human beings. Some scientists have been and are Christians. Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871), the father of computing was. Christianity is the unacknowledged basis of liberalism. Science and Christianity are excellent rational companions. (114) ‘John Polkinghorne says that the reduction of mental events to physics and chemistry destroys meaning’. (114) John Gray is quoted ‘The atheist humanistic mind serves evolutionary success, not truth.’ Lennox thinks that it is rational to believe in a rational God. (115)
Contrary to the popular view of Genesis Chapter One that it is fable and poetry at best, Lennox, a distinguished mathematician and scientist, bases his understanding of God, the universe and human life on its ‘metanarrative’. ‘God is primary, the universe is derivative…..The prime reality is God who is Spirit’. (116) He links this with John Chapter One. (see above) ‘The universe however is not eternal. It came to be by means of the creative word...The universe did not produce intelligence; it was the intelligence of God the Word that produced the universe.’ (117) In Genesis One creation is described in six stages in a series of speech acts by an intelligent God. Here it appears that for Lennox a ‘day’ is a ‘stage’ and not a twenty-four hour cycle. He does not deal with the literal time scale held by Christians for many centuries and by some young age creationists at the present time. He just says ‘However long it took.’ (118) For a scientist this is not good enough. He does not discuss the fossil record and the hundreds of millions of years supposedly indicated. Genesis One is therefore a creation metaphor. Lennox does not admit this. He quickly moves on to scientific observation. ‘The creation bears the signature of its superintelligent divine origins in its law-like behaviour, its rational intelligibility, in the information rich macromolecules in our DNA, and in the informational structure of intricate physiological mechanisms responsible for, for example, the migration of birds and fish, and in our human capacities for thought and language, feelings and relationships.’ (117) ‘...information cannot itself be material...the informational aspects of the universe, life, and consciousness ultimately point to, and are consistent with, the existence of a non-material source for these things – the Mind of God’. (118)
The creation narrative of Genesis One tells Lennox that the universe is not a closed system...the antithesis of a mindless unguided process; ‘you do not get from inorganic to organic without an external input of information and energy; similarly from animals to humans; there is a purposive element; humans are defined by the intelligent mind of God’. (118 – 120) ‘Human beings are the result of the mind of God working on the pre-existing matter that God originally created. Artificial life...will be the result of the minds of humans working on pre-existing matter’. (122) Lennox asks ‘Will humans ever be able, analogously, to breathe the breath of life into any material artefact that they have constructed?’ (123) The implication is ‘No’. Human aesthetic sense is evidence of more than the material as is our curiosity and our consciousness. The phenomena of the need to work, language and male-female relationships are based in the non-material. Lennox accepts the Genesis information that woman is built from man. In our feminist and gender particular age, this needs more justification. But Lennox is more interested in contrasting this male-female relationship with robotic companion, pet and help substitutes. Will AI robots be capable of responding to the complex blend of emotional, social cultural and physical needs of people? (132) Lennox quotes Margaret Boden….‘the fundamental difference between human and artificial intelligence: one cares, the other does not’ (133)
Lennox uses the word ‘account’ for the Biblical description of the Garden of Eden. He does not use the words ‘history’ or ‘story’. Most people would use ‘story’. Many might use ‘myth’; not in the sense of being untrue but in the sense of expressing deep truth while not accepting its literalness. Thus Lennox introduces us to his literal acceptance of the narrative. This is very surprising in a 21st century scientist. For him the first humans were given a garden paradise environment on earth. He does not date this. Was it 23rd October 4004 BC as Church of Ireland Archbishop James Ussher (1581 – 1656) calculated and as some young earth creationists hold to today? Lennox dodges the issue. He moves on to the ‘the moral dimension’ (135). He fairly distinguishes the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ from the ‘tree of knowledge’ as popularly misrepresented. ‘God was not opposed to knowledge...The garden was full of the potential for learning..’ (136)
‘God conferred a unique dignity on humans – that of moral capacity’. (136) This necessitated a certain degree of freedom within the boundary of the forbidden fruit. Lennox does not demythologise the serpent (Genesis 3 : 1 - 7) and accepts that the idea of ‘a malevolent nonhuman intelligence in the universe frequently attracts ridicule’ noting that people accept the hypothesis that the universe is populated by aliens. But this is human conjecture. Lennox holds that the Bible is the truth. Lennox rejects naturalism in favour of creation by God. (138) He argues that because proponents of AGI believe in other types of intelligence and many believe that extraterrestrial life exists there is no reason ‘to reject the biblical introduction of an intelligent alien.’ (138) He quotes C S Lewis. ‘It seems to me a reasonable supposition that some mighty created power had already been at work for ill on the material universe, or the solar system, or, at least the planet Earth before ever man came on the scene: and that when man fell, someone had, indeed tempted him...if there is such a power, as I myself believe, it may well have corrupted the animal creation before man appeared.’ (138, 139) Is this an explanation for the existence of carnivorous animals, the food chain, prey and be preyed upon, the food related violence of the animal world?
Lennox says that the serpent ‘is clever and it can speak. It engages Eve in conversation..’ (139) ‘God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die”. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3 : 3 – 5) Humanity’s first disobedience is thus recorded. Adam and Eve eat the fruit and ‘begin to experience death.’ How and why, we must ask? ‘It will first mean the death of fellowship with God’ followed by aesthetic and human relationships death and finally physical death.’ says Lennox. (140). Were Adam and Eve meant to live forever? To what purpose? To what history and end? Was Jesus not originally central to the plan? No sin – no need of redemption. Surely ‘eating the fruit’ is a metaphor for human awakening. Does it describe the transition from childhood innocence to adulthood? Is it about the formation of conscience in individual life? Does it reflect the struggle within each human being with competing life and moral choices and alternatives? What is the content of the obedience? Is it just a negative – ‘thou shalt not’? How attuned were the first human beings to the laws and requirements of God the Creator? Lennox skates over these problems with the Genesis narrative taken literally. But he is on safer grounds in deducing ‘the knowledge of good and evil that is gained by rejecting God and doing evil is not the kind of knowledge that you want to have’. (140) Because this is the daily and perennial state of human individual life as we know it. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine was quoted in 'Time' Magazine on April 29th 2022 saying, "I’ve aged from all this wisdom that I never wanted. It’s the wisdom tied to the number of people who have died, and the torture the Russian soldiers perpetrated. "To be honest, I never had the goal of attaining knowledge like that.”
Lennox correlates the serpent’s words ‘you will be like God’ with Yuval Harari’s transhumanism ‘Homo deus’ human self-deification concept. Prognoses for the future of humanity are not all sweetness and light. Ethics are not relativistic nor evolutionary but transcendent in origin. Moral convictions are hardwired. But modifying human beings genetically and technologically is of a different order. (141) Is humanity made in the image of God or just DNA as Richard Dawkins suggests. Lennox suggests that there are non-theists who see the origins of our sense of right and wrong in the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
We are still fleeing from the presence of God, says Lennox, and this is expressed in our our dystopian vision of the future. What if our robotic creations get out of control? ‘Paul Boddington is quoted, ‘...For if we see the Genesis account of the Fall of man as foreshadowing of fears about robots...it’s a worry about autonomy itself...will they adhere to the same value system as us? Will they decide to disobey us?’ (143) Lennox suggests that ‘those with transcendent ethical convictions should have a seat at the ethics table when discussing the potential problems of AI’. (144) But at present there is ‘only a plethora of wildly differing hypothetical scenarios’.
Francis Fukuyama regards transhumanism as ‘the world’s most dangerous idea’ in that it runs the risk of affecting human rights’. Liberal democracy depends on the fact that all humans share an undefined “Factor X” on which their equal dignity and rights are grounded. Lennox identifies this with being made ‘in the image of God’. (146, 145) Yuval Harari thinks that moral principles have no objective validity (147) but Lennox thinks otherwise. Relativism refutes its own basic principle. Human behaviour suggests a common standard outside ourselves. (148) ‘How then do you teach fairness to a computer or program it to overcome racial or gender bias?...Only a moral being, the human programmer, can and should be blamed.’ (149)
Lennox next discusses the ‘tree of life’. (Genesis 3 : 24) Humans lost access to the tree of life. They were not created immortal. They were dependent. The Fall meant physical death. Such a great issue as human finitude and personal obliteration surely needs a more coherent and profound explanation. Birth and death are basic constituents of the created order, plant, animal and human. The idea that two humans were created eternal but vulnerable to suggestion and therefore made liable to death is more difficult to accept than that human temporality was always a factor in creation and meant to be so. The connection between sin and spiritual death is acute enough for us without the added burden of bringing about the end of our lives. It seems disproportionate.
But Lennox connects this with the current search for silicon based immortality. Yuval Harari holds that free will, central to the Garden of Eden story, is false. ‘Humans make choices – but they are never independent choices.’ (151) Biological, social and personal conditions are involved, so too genes, biochemistry, gender, family background, national culture and evolution. For Lennox ‘denying free will removes the barriers to human experimentation in the interests of AGI.’ (152) Free will requires to be included.
Harari also thinks that the concept of the individual is delusional. This negates the Christian understanding of being made in the image of God and allows all to be at the mercy of big data harvesting. ‘The danger is that, as individuals, we will in this way lose all our meaning in the incessant maelstrom of data flow.’ (153) Harari says ‘it will be impossible to disconnect from this all-knowing network even for a moment. Disconnection will mean death.’ (153) Lennox instances teenage suicide motivated by internet troubling and seeks to offer an alternative future (155)
Psychologists do experiments with small children. They put sweets on a table in a room and tell the children not to eat them. They then leave the room to see what happens. The children move towards the sweets and the longer the experiment is continued the more they are tempted to taste. Some succumb. Others do not. The researcher Professor Walter Mischel of Columbia University following up his 2015 ‘The Marshmallow Test’ found out that the children who were able to exercise self control went on to better things in later schooling and later life. He associated his experiment with the temptation of Adam and Eve. Giving in to temptation is a human foible, a sin in God’s sight. It brings destruction at all levels of social and personal life. Now in the international and global milieu of the 21st century, it may lead to annihilation. Obedience or disobedience is a central aspect of human consciousness.
How do we square what we know about primitive humans with the metaphysical choice of seeking the knowledge of good and evil? Young creationists do not have this problem because they separate Adam and Eve as real people from the fossil record of human evolution. The writer/s of Genesis were already literate. Did they process their oral tradition? Did they transfer their own understanding back in time? Did Neanderthal (200,000 years ago) and Cromagnon (40,000 years ago) humans have a finely developed moral sense? Did they have any sense of God? Or is it a historical fact that two humans Adam and Eve were selected out of other humans to be given their personal knowledge of and relationship with God? And this election is peculiar to those who became the ‘People of God’ the Israelites, the Jews? Lennox does not deal with these issues. He accepts the Genesis narrative as it is without contextualising it in what science tells us about human origins.
‘God’ says Lennox, is the true superintelligence to which we might aspire rather than a human centred evolutionary superintelligence. Jesus Christ is the true God-Man. ‘Such a human superintelligence already exists...the Word became flesh.’ (158) The search for immortality through technology must be set against the Christian message that Jesus rose from the dead. He did not do so through biological engineering but by the power of God. The universe is not a closed system. It is open to the activity of God. For Lennox, there is much evidence to support the Christian claim. He quotes the Biblical scholar N T Wright who wrote, ‘the historian, of whatever persuasion, has no option but to affirm both the empty tomb and the ‘meetings with Jesus as ‘historical events.’ (160) The problem here is that we have passed from ‘science’ to ‘religion’. Observation and calculation are replaced by existential seeking and personal experience. An act of will is required to accommodate the Christian message. Atheists cannot make this act of will and we Christians cannot ‘scientifically’ demonstrate the reality of our relationship with God. But human life is not lived in a laboratory. It is much larger in scale and reference. Atheists want to tie the argument down to their own field of play. We ask them to look beyond the walls of their self imposed limitations of mind.
Lennox says that the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the Christian message and it has implications for us in the present...we humans can share Jesus’s resurrected life. (160) God wants us to be his sons and daughters. ‘This has all the hallmarks of a real enhancement.’ (161) It is God’s own victory over human rebellion and it becomes ours. Jesus was not techno-human nor a human deification. He was and is the true God-Man. Humans were involved in the historical process, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Mary, for example. This is a historical phenomenon. (162) It is supported by Biblical prophecy. The promise to Abraham (Genesis 12 : 3) has been fulfilled in the 2.3 billion Christians in the world today. Words of the prophets Isaiah, Micah and Zechariah were fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
‘The fact is that we humans need saving from our sins much more than we need political freedoms or upgrading.’ (169) Lennox writes ‘Christ offers us ‘salvation based on his death on the cross for our sins and on his resurrection’. (169) But he does not explain this. He has gone from science to history and then to Christian affirmation. These are three different categories of knowledge. He becomes evangelical. ‘..we must have a radical change of mind...we must personally repent...we must turn away from sin and, as an act of our will and heart, trust Christ as Saviour and Lord.’ (169) Transhumanism is a parody of this. ‘God offers a spectacular upgrade’. (170) This contrasts with visions of utopia which all fail due to human sin. Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1) contrasts with earthbound atheistic naturalism. The promises of AGI are small in comparison. (171)
Lennox does not explain why the death of Jesus was necessary for salvation. No-one else has ever done so either. Jesus Himself said ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Matthew 20 : 28) A ransom is given in exchange for someone else’s freedom from captivity. To whom was the ransom paid? Was it God the Father? Was it Satan – the Prince of this world ‘who now stands condemned?’ (John 16 : 11) and it is accessory to the greater purpose of God? ‘I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me’. (John 14 : 30 – 31)
Is Lennox a crypto Northern Irish Calvinist hiding his belief in the penal substitutionary interpretation of the death of Christ? Was it for the liberation of humanity from the hold that sin has over and in us? Maybe this is part of the deal but not the whole of it. Jesus was the one on whom the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53 : 6). Jesus was scapegoat and sacrificial lamb. Why? We wrong one another but we sin against God. Why crucifixion? An accident of history – of the Roman occupation? Lennox does not address or answer this problem. His explanation in his book ‘Gunning for God’ is ‘we can be forgiven, reconciled and accepted by God...not through our own efforts at obedience but by the obedience of another, that is Christ’. (p153) But why was this obedience necessary? To die our death and then to reverse the process of death - the consequence of sin - in humanity and to offer the prospect of eternal life through Jesus’ resurrection. The curse is cancelled. The last enemy is defeated.
John Lennox is a Christian apologist. Thus far in 2084 he has been in stout dialogue with atheism in its AGI projected form. He has met opponents on the middle part of the bridge of divide. Now, however, he calls to his adversaries from his side of the bridge. He is no shrinking violet. He takes on perhaps the most controversial issue among believing Christians throughout the world – Jesus’ Second Coming. Mainline churches such as the Church of Scotland, Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church do not address this issue well or often. It is an embarrassment. On the other hand some evangelical pastors emphasise Jesus’ Second Coming as a possible near time reality. Some even interpret Russian’s invasion of Ukraine as the beginning of the tribulation which will lead to the end of the world as we know it. Lennox rejects the gradual improvement gradual Christianisation of the world thesis. (175) His realism is understandable. Marxist and nationalist utopias failed appallingly in the 20th century. The war in Ukraine at present has destabilised the continent of Europe and far beyond and atrocities conducted by Russian troops have shocked all humanity, setting the world back 100 years. Enlightenment values have not produced unimpeded progress. On the contrary, Jesus return ‘is an essential part of the hope he held out to the world’, says Lennox (178)
Humans fear death because it is the end of everything and/or because they fear judgement, writes Lennox (180). But many humans neither fear death or judgement. Funeral services have become ‘fun events’ for many, celebrating the character and values, interests, successes and relationships of the deceased without reference to God. Christianity in the land today does not so much suffer direct persecution; it suffers apathy, irrelevance and obsolescence. If any human does fear death however Lennox offers a twofold guarantee, that there is life to follow and that our sins are forgiven. (180) For anyone interested, this is a good deal. Its corollary, however, is not. That humans have not believed in God nor found salvation in Jesus Christ from alienation on earth and in the hereafter. Conquering physical death is the answer to silicon based transhumanism. Whereas Lennox skips over real issues to do with the Fall of humankind, he does not do so with the nature of personal resurrection, basing his understanding on the text of 1 Corinthians 15 and Thessalonians, 1, 2 and 4. (180f)
He is fascinated by the Second Coming of Jesus. ‘Paul encourages the believers to live their lives in light of the future coming of Christ’ (184) Lennox is willing to address some of the complexities for us today. But does he do so convincingly, successfully? He explains away the apparent contradiction between the words of Jesus ‘The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’ (Matthew 24 : 44) and the last words of Revelation ‘Surely, I am coming soon.’ (22 : 20) as a tactic to stop early Christians from thinking that ‘their behaviour didn’t matter.’ (185) But this is to undermine the sensible meaning of the words ‘Surely, I am coming soon’. Jesus also said ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’ (Matthew 24 : 36) However Jesus urged continued watchfulness (42). Paul also thought about and hoped for the immanent return of Jesus. ‘May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1 Thessalonians 5 : 23) Note the inclusion of the word ‘body’ denoting this life, not the life to come. Jesus also said ‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ (Matthew 16 : 28). It is difficult to agree that this happened unless we interpret it as being fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. This is a fair interpretation.
Lennox however is still expecting the visible, physical return of Jesus to earth and for him this is different from Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Lennox says ‘we all move towards the return of Christ at two ‘speeds – the speed of earth history and the speed with which we approach death.’ Encouraging belief in Jesus’ immanent return was to ‘allow our expectation of his coming to have the moral and spiritual effect it should have on us.’ (185) But is it less moral to behave out of expectation of Jesus’ immanent return than it is to behave expecting that Jesus return is not immanent? The latter seems to be the higher morality. Many of the very best Christians of the centuries did not expect Jesus’ return in their lifetimes. Nor does Lennox explain the meaning of 1 Thessalonians 4 : 16 -17. ‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.’ He simply comments, ‘This is way beyond anything AI could even dream of.’ (187)
Unabashed Lennox writes ‘Let us now see what the Bible has to say about what is to happen on this planet in the Future’ (188) He quotes John Gray who quotes Yuval Harari. ‘Humans may well use science to turn themselves into something like gods….But no Supreme Being will appear on the scene.’ (188) Gray is wrong, says Lennox. Jesus promised to return and for Lennox this is central to Christianity. He uses 2 Thessalonians 2 : 1 – 10 to remind those Christians that Jesus will not return until certain publicly visible things happen. (189) Lennox then embarks on an esoteric discussion about ‘the man of lawlessness’ of 2 Thessalonians 2 : 3. He is a tyrannical leader energised by Satanic power enabled to deceive people by lying wonders. The climax will come when the returning Christ bursts onto the scene and destroys him by his appearing.’ Lennox admits that this did not happen in Paul’s day nor has it happened yet. But ‘when it does happen, the whole world will be all too aware of it’. How does Lennox reconcile this vision of Christ with that of the Rabbi of Nazareth? Is there not a bit of revenge here – a portion of ‘I told you so.’? Indeed, is it not a hugely disproportionate and destructive contrast? Is this really how it is to be with Jesus? The resurrection of Jesus was a quantum progression of the Jewish hope for a Messiah. Might not the Christian hope for the second coming of Jesus be of a comparable or greater quantum progression? As Jewish political hopes were dashed on Calvary might not Christian hopes be superseded by something much greater which at present, we cannot imagine?
Lennox does not think that Christianity will permeate the planet until peace reigns. He asks ‘How do we know whether this apocalyptic scenario (Paul’s) is true or not?’ (190) Paul, He says, is talking about spiritual lawlessness – humans claiming divinity. (191) He instances historical rulers of empires. We might instance Mao, Stalin Hitler, Pol Pot, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. - examples of the subhuman and bestial. This is Paul’s vision of the future. It is happening before our eyes – lawless rebellion against Almighty God’. For Lennox, this vision contradicts the widespread idea that humans are basically good and are improving all the time. (193) Humans are insecure and discontented, says Lennox. No-one knows where we are going. (194) This is assuredly true.
Humanity has no united vision or strategy for the future. But was Paul foreseeing a far future single male transhumanised techno-human, possibly originating in China, ruling the world in cruelty and usurping the place of God in our imagination? I do not think so. Lennox volunteers the connection. He is saying that the Bible warns against misuse of human possibility in the coming AGI age. Will that be 200 years or more? He is battling with the atheist world-view held by many AGI enthusiasts. Should Christians be afraid? Or should we be crusading against these theories, experiments and prognoses? Lennox carves out a Christian position and alerts us all.
‘The man of lawlessness’ is an obscure reference in the Bible, but the imagery of the Book of Revelation is part of popular culture. The four horsemen of the apocalypse, 666, the mark of the beast, the New Jerusalem and more appear in various guises in books, films, plays, internet babble, common communication and in Christian hymns and teaching. And so John Lennox is bold to make an association between 2 Thessalonians 2 : 3, Revelation 12 and 13 and a possible AGI transhumanised future. Revelation is metaphor but is none the less real. He does not however use the word ‘metaphor’ in relation to Genesis 3. Lennox thinks about total social control (200) organised by an implanted chip or a bracelet. Lennox ventures that Revelation ‘could well suggest something like a brilliantly contrived humanoid robot’ and he asks ‘How far will God permit humans to go?’ (203) He instances the Tower of Babel in Genesis 3 drawing parallels between human ambition then and in the future. Lennox expects God to intervene. He is in ultimate control.
Revelation is a timely warning, Lennox says. AGI is not a play thing. A global tyranny with social control, a totalitarian surveillance system at its heart, with the power of life and death is even prototyped in present day China. The beast of Revelation 13 : 18 is an individual. ‘This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.’ ‘Who is this? ‘When this world power appears, there will be no need to guess who it is’, says Lennox. (205) It is a man working out the same rebellion that is referred to in Genesis 3. He (and it is always a ‘he’) will be a self-divinised world leader who will nevertheless be ‘cataclysmically destroyed by the return of Christ in power and great glory’ (206). He quotes Revelation 19 : 20 - 21. ‘But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshipped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh’. (Some might wish this on Vladimir Putin and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Russia.)
Did John envisage a silicon based techno human ruling the world in rebellion against God? It is hard to think so. Is this John’s dream imagination at work? Is Lennox right to interpret Christ’s return in these terms? Is the quantum progression to become violence and mayhem, destruction and mass murder? Is Jesus to take vengeance in order to demonstrate his authority? Lennox connects Daniel 7, Revelation 19 and the possible AGI future of humanity. (207f) This is not ‘a wild and irrational idea’.’ He discusses the United Nations and ‘world government’. (210) Not probable, suggests Lennox. He quotes Immanuel Kant who thought that ‘a soulless despotism, after crushing the germs of goodness, will finally lapse into anarchy...(and become) ‘the graveyard of freedom.’ (213)
2084 is an interesting Christian apologetic, seeking to dialogue with the future possibilities of contemporary computer science while explaining with great conviction the basic central truths of Christianity as alternative wisdom. But this is not just thinking. For John Lennox this is real.